Here is a term paper on ‘Organizational Power’ for class 11 and 12. Find paragraphs, long and short term papers on ‘Organizational Power’ especially written for college and management students.

Term Paper on Organizational Power 

Term Paper Contents:

  1. Term Paper on Organizational Power, Conflict and Politics
  2. Term Paper on the Significance of Power and Politics in Organizations
  3. Term Paper on the Symbols of Organizational Power
  4. Term Paper on the Structural Determinants of Organizational Power
  5. Term Paper on Power Imbalances: Sources of Organizational Conflicts

Term Paper # 1. Organizational Power, Conflict, and Politics:


The effective organizational structures, it was suggested, somehow follow a logic, in which the nature of environment, strategy, technology and structure match the demands and requirements of each other. We also saw that this consistency in the pattern, is achieved through the coordination and control mechanisms, which appropriately and rationally distribute the power and positions across the organizational roles.

Thus, the rational approach assumes that people occupying equal hierarchical positions or similar roles will be vested with equal power, while people in subordinate positions will exercise less power than their superiors (with a few exceptions, as in professional bureaucracies and adhocracies). Such an understanding of the organization, however, only presents a part of the picture. While environment, strategy, size and technology do determine the structure, they are not the only determinants. Studies have shown that these tangible variables, at best, only explain about 50 to 60 percent of variance in the structure.

Such studies suggest that there are also other somewhat non-tangible, and even non- rational factors, which influence what happens to/within the organizations. This seems realistic also. Organizations do not always function in a rational manner.

For example, it is not uncommon to find, that among colleagues having similar seniority and functional responsibilities, some exert more influence on organizational affairs than the others. Similarly, even among departments, there exists an implicit hierarchy, which makes certain departments more powerful than others. Among the equals in the corporate animal farm, it seems, some are invariably more equal than others.


What these realities also point to, is the fact that the authority (i.e., the right to influence) of a position, is not necessarily equal to the power (i.e., the ability to influence) of that position. While the authority may be rationally delegated in the organization, the power of a position depends on a number of- “extraneous” (personal and situational) factors.

These differences in the extraneous factors result in inequities and imbalances in the power structure within the organization, opening up opportunities for many apparently non-rational factors (e.g., conflicts, politicking, etc.,) to creep in the organizational functioning. We will focus on the role and dynamics of power and politics in organisations.

Term Paper # 2. Significance of Power and Politics in Organizations:

The inevitability of power inequity and the political struggle and conflicts surfacing in an organization. The hierarchical and authority-based nature of the organisations, the differences in the need for power, the organization’s need to optimise, leading to struggle for resources, etc. makes them ideal grounds for exercising legitimate and illegitimate influences, Moreover, these inherent anachronisms, which characterize the power relationships among the organizational members, further encourage them to adapt political means for achieving personal, and organizational goals.


The popular connotation of terms like politics and political skills is rather negative, implying that their use in the organization is bound to have dysfunctional consequences. However, the fact that exercise of political skills (or exercise of power through political skills) is so inherently interwoven in the fabrics of organizational life, suggests that their use may not always be dysfunctional for the organization. Power, after all, refers to one’s ability to influence, flows of available energy and resources towards certain goals as opposed to other goals. In this sense, both power and political skills serve similar purpose.

Term Paper # 3. Symbols of Organizational Power:

Executives can use power and political skills in many different, concrete and symbolic, ways. Acquiring status symbols (e.g., size of the office, number of telephones, perks, etc.) is one of the most common ways in which an executive’s power in the organization gets manifested.

Effective, and really powerful executives, however, tend to use power in a manner which contributes to their effectiveness.


Some of the indicators of effective utilisation of one’s power are:

1. The executive has early access to crucial organizational information about major decisions and changes.

2. The executive can favourably intercede on behalf of someone who is in trouble with the authorities.

3. The executive can gear a desirable placement, promotion or above-average salary for subordinate(s).


4. The executive can get approval for expenditure which is beyond budget.

5. The executive can influence the agenda for meetings.

6. The executive has fast, easy and regular access to top decision-makers.

It is worth noting that, in contrast to authority, which refers only to downward influence, the above manifestations of power, describe power as predominantly referring to horizontal and upward influence.


Both refer to the ability to influence, and both can be equally used to achieve legitimate or illegitimate goals. The difference, probably, lies in the means of influence: exercising power would involve the use of legitimate means (one’s position, expertise, reward and punishment, etc.), whatever be the ends, while political skills refer to the use of illegitimate means (withholding information, ingratiating, game-playing, etc.) to achieve ends, which may be quite legitimate.

These arguments are not intended to convey, that playing politics is a necessarily desirable form of organizational behaviour. Undoubtedly, politics in organizations has dysfunctional consequences: it wastes organizational energies, is used to resist necessary changes (or to bring about those changes which are not required), creates unnecessary stress, hampers with goal achievement, and so on.

But it would be equally unrealistic to ignore the positive contributions which power-politics makes to the organizations.

Mintzberg (1989) argued that politics has at least four functional uses in organisations:


1. Politics ensures that the stronger members of the organization are brought into positions of leadership (specially, since bureaucratic structures and autocratic superiors tend to suppress strong subordinates). It allows those with more initiative and competence to prove their worth by getting ahead and to start taking organizational responsibilities matching with their potential.

2. In organizational decision-making, the tendency of those in authority is to present a one-sided case on any issue. Politics ensures that all sides of the issue come to surface and can be debated. Thus, politics can provide an alternative way to a more democratic functioning.

3. Most organizational changes are resisted by the established systems of authority (the “vested interests”), for whom the change is threatening. Politics turns out to be necessary for removing these blocks to the required changes.

4. Political skills of the executive are also necessary to make it easier to arrive at and implement decisions. Effective executives do need to rely much on their skills of persuasion, negotiations, making trade-offs, building networks, etc., to achieve perfectly legitimate organizational goals.

Term Paper # 4. Structural Determinants of Organizational Power:

Power has often been understood as a personal characteristic—some people, because of their personality, expertise, or skills, have it, while others don’t. However, if one takes a broader view of power viz., the “ability to influence”, this ability derives not only from the personality and interpersonal skills of the individual, but also from the particular structural situation, in which he or she is placed. After all, the personal secretary of the CEO is always likely to wield more power over others as compared to other secretaries.


Similarly, if a particular job is more important to achieve organizational goals (or the job-holder is able to convince others that it is so), its occupant will enjoy greater power. Many studies have supported the contention that the peculiar characteristics of a job contribute much to the person’s organisational power.

The following discussion on such job/structural characteristics is based on these findings:

A. Hierarchical Position:

Obviously, the most common base of power is the position which the individual occupies in the formal hierarchy of the organization. This position gives him formal authority to influence subordinates’ behaviour, by legitimately demanding compliance, and by sanctioning rewards and punishments for performance. By virtue of position, one can even make organizationally legitimate demands on one’s colleagues (e.g., the production in-charge can legitimately ask the purchase manager to plan purchases for spare parts). The higher the position, the more power one is likely to exercise.

Of course, hierarchical position is not the only basis of power. There are also individual differences in the manner in which people exercise their authority, some of which can be more effective than others. Bachman et al. (1968), for instance found that use of power based on one’s position, and the ability to reward and punish appears to be negatively or inconsistently related to organisational performance.

Shetty (1978), reviewing the research literature, also found that use of such power is more likely to have dysfunctional consequences, whereas power stemming from expertise and relationship with subordinates may be more functional. These findings suggest that the formal, position-related power may not be the most effective basis for influencing others.

B. Non-Routineness:

If a job is of routine nature, it is more likely to be controlled through standardisation of work procedures. This would decrease the degree of freedom which the occupant can exercise. A non-routine job, on the other hand, allows the person performing the job a high degree of autonomy and flexibility. In an organisation, if the nature of the job is non-routine, it justifies a variety of behaviours, which the person can indulge in. Moreover, since there are no standards to decide the legitimacy of his demands or behaviours, it also allows him to make a variety of demands on the organisational infrastructure

C. Centrality to Workflow:


Centrality refers to how critical a job is, for the organisation to achieve its strategic goals. Often a job can be quite a non-routine one, without wielding any power, because it does not contribute very significantly to the process of organisational goal achievement. On the other hand, jobs, which are central to the workflow of the organisation, even the routinised ones, are likely to have more influence on organisational decision-making.

Which are the Powerful Jobs?

1. If the job involves dealing with environmental uncertainties, e.g., marketing jobs in a competitive industry;

2. If the job has innovative and creative goals, for which a standard cannot be predicted;

3. If the job is new in the organisation (new department or function, few predecessors) so that the process of standardisation is not yet complete;

4. If the job has high interpersonal component (dealing with clients and customers, liaising, etc.), making it difficult to formalise its contents;


5. If the job is central to the strategic intent of the organisation, e.g., finance and accounts jobs, if the organisational strategy emphasises cost-control;

6. If the job is critical to organisational performance, and cannot be substituted, e.g., a specialist’s job which is central to the workflow;

7. If the job allows or 2 to have control over critical resources, e.g., finance jobs in a capital-intensive industry;

8. If the job involves access to sought-after information, e.g., job of the secretary to the CEO; and so on.

D. Control Over Inputs:

If a job, by virtue of its position in the structure, has control over resources, which are required for others’ functioning, it will have power over others, more so, if these resources are scarce and critical to others’ functioning. For instance, the power which trade unions exert on the management is mostly based on this demand and supply equation. The unions control the workers, who are a critical input for effective organisational functioning. This control gives the unions an advantage in the exercise of power and in getting their demands met by the management.

Often, many support functions (e.g., industrial engineering, maintenance and finance) exert power over line-functions because of their control over critical inputs. Unless the industrial engineers recommend the work norms or manpower requirements, or until the finance people sanction the money, the activities of the line department would remain affected. One important input, which is often used for power maximisation is the information.

E. Uniqueness:


Related to control over inputs is the in-substitutability of the resources. If a machine breaks down, and the maintenance support is not forthcoming, it is likely that some experienced shop floor operator may devise a makeshift arrangement to continue with the work uninterrupted. But if the problem to be solved is complex, such as a sudden fire on the Bombay High (or in the oil wells of Kuwait), only a person with highly specialised competence, like Red Adair, can solve it. Such jobs are unique and cannot be substituted, which makes them quite powerful in the system.

In the organisations, jobs which require specialised skills invariably carry greater power. Actually, almost all jobs require a certain level of specialised competence and skills. However, many of them can be substituted. For instance, even the job of a car-driver in the transport section of an organization requires special skills. But these skills can be substituted by those of taxi-operators.

That is why car-drivers do not influence organisational matters (unless, of course, they force the management to enter into an agreement barring it from hiring taxis, thereby, making their own skills in the organization in-substitutable). But the skills of doctors in the hospitals, professors in academic institutions, cost accountant in an industry, executive chefs of five-star hotels, etc., cannot be easily replaced by another operator. This explains why these job-occupants enjoy a considerable say in the organizational matters.

F. Proximity to Power:

Finally, if the job allows one to be in the proximity of the place where crucial organizational decisions are taken, it gives one greater opportunities to influence these decisions. Of course, this influence is more often informal in nature than formal. Young and junior subordinates are sometimes invited to make presentations (e.g., the marketing executive looking after a new territory may be asked to make a presentation in the annual sales conference), but such occasions are rare.

Mostly, the influence is informal, as the subordinates may be interacting with their senior officers on an informal level only while sharing a table in the executive cafeteria, or commuting in the company bus. It is important to understand that this proximity to power can be both in terms of chain of command, as well as physical in nature.

Term Paper # 5. Power Imbalances: Sources of Organizational Conflicts:


People like to be powerful, to have control and mastery over their life and work. Adler (1927), in fact, proposed power as a basic human motive. An ideal condition of organisational life would be, if every job-occupant feels equally and adequately empowered to manage his work.

However, it is generally accepted that organizations do not (and probably cannot) distribute power equally across different hierarchical levels. In addition, power is also not distributed rationally in the organizations.

The structural arrangements in organisations, inadvertently end up by giving some departments or jobs more power than they rationally require, while leaving others with lesser influence than they deserve.

These power imbalances stimulate the less powerful to put in efforts to enhance their power, leading to organizational conflicts. Like organizational power, organizational conflicts also have their roots in organisational structure. Many studied have identified a number of structural factors, which contribute to organizational or interdepartmental conflicts. We will briefly review these findings under four broad categories—horizontal differentiation, interdependence among subunits, performance and reward criteria, and incongruent relationships.

A. Horizontal Differentiation:

The very fact that organizations put people in different groups and functions, creates potential for conflicts. This peculiar aspect of human nature was reported by Bennis and Slater (1968), when in an experiment the students were randomly divided into ‘red’ and ‘green’ groups.

These groups did not compete, or even interact; they just sat in the same room and completed a questionnaire. It was found that “only 10 minutes are needed to activate defensiveness and fear, reflected in the hostile and irrational perceptions of both “reds” and “greens”.” Similar findings were reported by Blake, Shephard and Mouton (1964) with a group of executives.

These executives were divided into two groups, where they automatically developed their own group structure, norms and cohesiveness. When they were given identical problems, for which they had to find the “best” solution, there was a marked tendency to enter into a win-lose power struggle, to perceive the other group members as adversaries, and to down­grade their solution.

Similar dynamics is likely to occur in organizational settings. Lawrence and Lorsch (1967) noted that as organizations become more differentiated, the different sub-units (departments, groups, divisions, etc.) develop significant task-based internal differences.

These differences are in terms of:

(a) The degree of structure,

(b) The orientation among members towards the environment,

(c) Their planning time perspectives, and

(d) Their interpersonal orientations.

Shapiro (1977), for instance, noted that marketing and manufacturing executives typically differ from each other in their assessment of and problems related to planning, quality assurance, cost control, customer service, product development, etc. It is important to note, however, that horizontal differentiation only creates a potential for conflicts, but does not necessarily lead to conflicts (much would depend on the integrating mechanisms in the organization).

B. Interdependence among Sub-units:

Obviously, if two units are mutually independent of each other, and have no opportunity to interact, there would be no reason for any conflict to develop between them. Conflicts occur only when there is some extent of interaction and interdependence among units.

This interdependence can be in three ways:

1. The units may be mutually dependent on each other to accomplish their goals. This dependence can be for receiving and giving assistance, information, compliance or doing other coordinative acts, which help each unit to achieve their specific goals. For instance, consultants in a team, or executives in a task force are mutually dependent on each other. The problem they often experience, is related to overlapping of issues, such as task overload, sharing of common resources, dealing with common clients, etc.

2. The units may be asymmetrically dependent on each other. That is, while unit A may be dependent on unit B for assistance, coordination, information, or inputs, etc., this dependence is only one-way. In such an arrangement, unit B would have little incentive to coordinate. Moreover, since the units are arranged in a sequential long- linked chain, it also encourages a unit to get away by blaming the preceding unit for its own failure. For instance, the marketing department may blame the production for low quality, while the production department may pass off the blame to the purchase department for low-grade materials, and so on.

3. The dependence among the units can also be because of their dependence on common resources. For instance, in most organisations different sub-units depend on a common pool of organizational resources, such as physical space, equipment, personnel, operating or capital funds, and centralised services, etc. In situations when these resources are scarce in an organization, and where their allocation is not mediated effectively, the chances of competition and conflict among the sub-units are high.

One would notice that such interdependencies are quite common in any organisation. Organizations are, after all, composites of interdependent units, which are bound together by common goals. It follows, therefore, that the potential for conflicts is always inherent in any organisation.

C. Performance and Reward Criteria:

The interdependence among horizontally differentiated units has some noteworthy consequences for the organisations. As organizations grow in complexity, often the goals of their sub-units become more and more independent and compartmentalised from each other— even to the extent that the goals of one unit may interfere with the goals of other units.

For example, one of the goals of the stores and purchase function is to keep the inventory low to avoid the blocking of capital. But achievement of this aim can sometimes seriously hamper the smooth functioning of the production department.

Organizations, of course, evolve coordinating mechanisms to integrate such separate goals. The fact, however, remains that organisations expect their different wings to perform in manners which may not be very consistent. This often results in conflicts among the sub-units. Work in most organisations stipulates the units working as a team.

The performance, however, is appraised and rewarded for each unit’s achievements. We can consider, for instance, the following case: a construction company, different projects in the region were expected to share the common plant and equipment facilities.

In practice, however, some projects would hoard certain critical equipment (even when not required immediately) which would hamper with the other projects’ progress. The conflict situation arose because those who violated the norm of sharing were able to finish their projects without time and cost overruns (and correspondingly, their executives received more recognition, bonus and promotions).

The inconsistencies in the performance and reward criteria among different sub-units also arise on account of the differences in the nature of their activities. Shukla (1986), for instance, noted that organizations are often divided between the innovating functions (e.g., R & D, value engineering, product development, HRD, etc.,) who are responsible to bring about change, and operating functions (e.g., production, finance, etc.) whose task-efficiency depends on maintaining the status quo.

Similarly, in his discussion on the marketing-manufacturing conflict, Shapiro (1977) noted:

Because the costs of a broader (product) line are primarily in the manufacturing area, the manufacturing manager emphasises the advantages of a narrower line. The reverse is true of marketer. Thus the situation literally forces each manager into an adversary position. Each creates pressure for the policy that minimises his costs, maximises his benefits, and leads to positive evaluation and an appropriate reward.

Differences in performance and evaluation criteria also arise because of the variety of goal characteristics among the sub-units. Some have more long-term goals (e.g., R & D, HRD), while others have short-term targets (e.g., production, marketing); certain goals can be measured (e.g., rejection rate, machine down time, etc.), while others are immeasurable (e.g., industrial harmony); some are based on “hard” data (e.g., capacity utilisation, inventory levels), while others rely on “soft” data (e.g., customer satisfaction), and so on. Naturally, such different goals cannot be measured on a common criterion, even though vise of differential criteria paves way for conflicts to occur.

D. Incongruent Relationships:

Through their control and coordinating mechanisms, organizations aim at structuring and regulating the relationships among their members and sub-units. This, unfortunately (or fortunately), is not completely possible. Certain areas of ambiguities are invariably left unattended. Certain environmental, strategic or structural considerations encourage deliberately ambiguous definitions of roles and relationships.

Some of the common sources for these incongruences in inter-role/functional relationships are:

1. The organizational definition of a relationship contradicts the cultural norms. For instance, many old workers resent complying with young professionals, since culturally age is related to authority.

2. Certain roles and functions, particularly the creative ones, need to be characterised by low formalisations, which encourages ambiguities in expectations from/by the incumbents. Since the perceived legitimate expectations may not be met, conflicts can result.

3. Organizations, which consist of heterogeneous and specialist groups, are more likely to experience conflicts. This is so because diversity of expertise and orientations makes it difficult for the organisation to perfectly coordinate their activities.

4. The more complex (horizontally, vertically and geographically) an organisation is, the greater are the chances for communication distortions to occur. This, in turn, would create potentials for conflicts.

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